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tv   Face the Nation  CBS  March 13, 2011 8:30am-9:00am PDT

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>> schieffer: today on "face the nation," a triple disaster of unimagined proportions in japan. first, an earthquake and then, the tsunami, and the damage from what now looks like has set off a meltdown in one of the country's nuclear reactors. our correspondents are spread across japan, and we'll have the latest from overnight. it's all ahead on "face the nation." captioning sponsored by cbs "face the nation" with cbs news chief washington correspondent bob schieffer. and now from washington, bob schieffer. >> schieffer: and good morning again. though the news this morning is not very good, not good at all, but here is the latest. the japanese prime minister said
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today that the disaster that had hit his country-- and we're quoting him directly here-- is "the worst crisis for japan since world war ii." the death toll is now likely to go beyond 10,000 in just one state alone. it turns out the quake damaged two nuclear reactors at a power plant on the coast, maybe three. one of them seems to be going through a partial meltdown, which means radiation could leak. we have a team of cbs news correspondents in japan this morning. cbs news correspondent celia hatton is in fukushima, the site of that nuclear power plant. what is the latest? >> reporter: bob, it's been another day of grim news coming from the fukushima nuclear plant. just a few hours ago, authorities warned that the situation to prevent total meltdown at three faulty nuclear reactors is an ongoing challenge. they warn if something happens to one reactor, it could affect the others nearby. the generator number 3 is now the most risk for an outer
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container explosion like the one that took place a day ago on generator number one. that's when officials did the only thing they could to prevent the entire reactor from blasting open. they released a bit of radioactive steam to reduce pressure in that generator number one, which led to a larger than expected explosion. that's what we can look for could be coming from generator number 3 in the next day or so. it seems likely that officials are going to have to do a similar operation on generator number 3. so, unfortunately, we're expecting more explosions from that nuclear plant. >> schieffer: how many people have been evacuated from there thus far? >> at the moment, the average number is 170. although estimates do vary. i've seen as high as 200,000 people evacuated from that 12-mile radius and beyond that. nobody wants to be that close to these nuclear plants at the moment. there are large numbers of people who are on the move in the area trying to escape. >> schieffer: what about radiation sickness? any signs of that? i know they have started issuing
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iodine for people, just in case. what is that situation? >> they're handing out iodine tablets to people who are within a certain area around the nuclear plant. not everybody is getting the iodine pills, but they are trying to scan everybody for any effects of radiation. so far again there are varying numbers as to how many people are affected by radiation. actually at this point, bob, it's very difficult to know whether their health has been affected in the long term. we simply don't know enough about the situation at the moment. >> schieffer: how are the people taking it? >> you know, it's been really interesting watching the reactions over the past two days. definitely, anxiety and concern is mounting on this day two that i've been able to watch the people here. you know, it's fascinating. the televisions are on in every room. any place that has electricity, people are just gathered around, watching these televisions 24
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hours a day trying to find any news they can about the nuclear reactor. of course here, that means the difference as to whether they can go back to their family home or not. it really is quite serious. but at the same time, when there's a strong aftershock, nobody here seems to blink except for me, because i'm not as used to earthquakes here as the people who have grown up here their whole lives. it really is... it's been a very sad and frustrating situation for many of the people here. >> schieffer: thank you so much. obviously, you're going to stay on the job there. we really appreciate it. >> thank you, bob. >> schieffer: harry smith, our man on the move, who was just back from the middle east is in tokyo this morning, which for all the troubles, he is returning to relative normalcy. what's the latest there? >> stunning difference between friday and today.
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at the big airport, wide open, business as usual. the only difference i would say we saw there was there were numerous crews, rescue crews that had clearly been flown in there and were about to be deployed up north. as far as downtown tokyo is concerned, we didn't see a single vestige of earthquake damage. people were strolling through the park. it was a sunday afternoon as if nothing had happened. >> schieffer: but that is very much in contrast to what is going on in the rest of the country. >> yeah. that's for sure, bob. because everything up north is basically on kind of a lockdown. i'm not sure if you've heard this or not, but there are more than 100,000 troops that are going to be deployed here in japan through this disaster. as the japanese prime minister said, this is the worst disaster to hit japan since world war ii. and even people here as far away from the earthquake epicenter as tokyo was, they said this was the worst they had ever felt. they felt like they were literally rocking back and forth in the buildings.
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it also speaks to how earthquake-proof tokyo is, because, as we say, as we came through town, we didn't see a single vestige of damage any place. >> schieffer: as you go around the country, the statistics we're hearing from the government are almost unbelievable. 215,000 people living in 1,300 temporary shelters. one-and-a-half million households have not had water since the quake. you mentioned the 60,000 or the 100,000 troops that have been deployed. it's hard to imagine something like this happening. >> you know, it's interesting, because there's no place on the planet that is better prepared for this than japan is. earthquake is almost a part of people's daily mantra, as it were. it's something that he keep in mind all the time. there are always constant civil defense drills and constant drills for sirens and evacuations.
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so this is maybe the place on the planet that is best prepared for something like this. and then you see the kind of devastation and damage that has happened as a result, and you wonder, if it had happened some place else, it's hard to imagine but it would have been much, much, much worse. >> schieffer: harry smith. the coastal city of sendai is closest to the epicenter. our cbs news correspondent bill whitaker is there. >> hello, bob. i'm in the offices of tbc television here in sendai city, one of the few places in the city to have power. this television station is now running off generator power. it took us 15 hours to get here from tokyo. this is a ride that usually takes about four to five hours. but most of the roads coming in to sendai have either been damaged or closed down by authorities. this is one of the hardest hit cities in all of the japan.
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tonight, outside, the night air is filled with the wail of sirens, of fire engines racing down to a massive fire by the port. a fire so big that it's turned the whole eastern sky into a bright orange red. when we got here earlier this afternoon, we saw people running to high ground. they had just had another aftershock and another warning of another tsunami. people here are very frightened and very skittish. and they have good reason to be. not only did they endure one of the worst earthquakes ever recorded here in japan, but people say it was 30 minutes after that that the huge tsunami swept through. and from what we could see, the tsunami swept in several miles inland. it's really kind of hard to explain the power of that surging water. but we saw tanker trucks and 18-wheelers and cars and even planes flipped upside-down, thrown aside, thrown around as if they were pieces of paper.
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tonight, here, the city is without power, without telephone, without water. it seems it will be some time before the city can get back on its feet. >> schieffer: bill whitaker. thank you, bill. cbs news correspondent lucy craft has been covering this thing since it first hit. lucy, how are the japanese people taking all of this? >> the question on everybody's lips is we're the most technologically advanced country in the world, one of them. richest countries in the world. we know about disaster prevention. we have a state of the art system. "how on earth did this happen?' a lot of criticism is being leveled at the government for coming at this flat-footed. but it has to be said that the one phrase on the lips of all the government spokespeople and a lot of the university professors who study disasters is a phrase that means "this was beyond our expectations." this was not in the textbooks.
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we had nuclear power plant that had backup system upon backup system, and yet it was helpless against these huge tsunami. some interesting facts, for example, the earthquake which was a magnitude 7, this last for... the tremors lasted for a matter of a few seconds. this earthquake we just had the other day lasted for five minutes. again, beyond the experience of anyone in japan. a tsunami-- the textbooks say a tsunami comes an hour after a major earthquake. in this case, people had nine- minutes' warning before the first giant tsunami started striking the shore. this was well beyond anybody's planning design. another question is, you know, the rescue teams have been unable to get to all of the victims because they're spread over such a wide area. and japan right now is terribly depopulated. we have people living in very remote areas, particularly elderly people living in homes that, you know, just fall apart at the first sign of an earthquake. maybe we need to have people living more closely together out
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of areas that are at higher risk. so there's a lot of soul searching that will be happening. as the prime minister said, it's the worst crisis for japan since world war ii. right now, i think the country is just in a state of shock. there's a lot of questions now, one of the newspapers this morning was saying that the stock market may crash on monday when it opens. certainly, the companies that are the pillar of the japanese economy-- as you know, it is trade dependent. the companies that are the gold standard for the country-- toyota, despite all its travails, is extremely well run. very profitable company. sony, honda, nissan, all these companies that are backbone of the japanese economy are at a standstill right now, because their factories have been damaged or because their supply chains are stopped. the country is really on hold right now, and its going to require a vast amount of rethinking about how do we deal with the crisis?
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>> schieffer: lucy craft. we want to say thanks to her and to bill whitaker, to harry smith and all of our correspondents and there are more on the way covering this story in japan. we want to go now to atlanta. the chairman of the senate homeland security committee, joe lieberman, is there. senator, obviously our hearts go out to the people in japan, but i guess we had better turn to the local news here. does this pose any kind of a danger for the united states? i mean, if this radiation gets into the atmosphere, is there a danger of it drifting here? >> there is some risk, but i'd say right now, from what i know, bob, that it's remote. what this horrific natural disaster in japan has to do for all of us is to go back and look at our preparedness for such a catastrophe here. just to put this in context-- the japanese earthquake hit 9.0 on the richter scale.
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the great san francisco earthquake of 1906 was only 7.6. you can see how hard it is to plan for something like that. i do want to assure americans who are watching that, after hurricane katrina and all the failures that we saw with fema, our committee investigated, we recommended, we passed a reform bill-- fema now has ten regional offices that drill with state and local officials for preparedness for any kind of natural disaster, particularly the ones more likely in given areas. we have 104 nuclear power plants in our country. every year, once a year, fema, the nuclear regulatory commission, the power plants go through emergency drilling, evacuation planning to see what they would do if a disaster struck. but the reality is that we're but the reality is that we're watching something unfold, and we don't know where it's going with regard to the nuclear power plants in japan right now. i think it calls on us here in
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the u.s. naturally, not to stop building nuclear power plants, but to put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what's happened in japan. final word of reassurance to the american people. since three mile island, we upgraded safety standards for our nuclear power plants. right now, no plant can be built unless it can withstand the known highest earthquake in that geographic area, plus some margin of safety. >> schieffer: so, so.... >> so this is part of what we do we do. >> schieffer: what you're saying is we should have a moratorium now on building nuclear plants, that we should just kind of stop and kind of reassess? >> yeah. i've been a big supporter of nuclear power, because it's domestic, it's ours and it's clean. but we've had a good safety with nuclear power plants here in the united states. but i think we've got to...
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i don't want to stop the building of nuclear power plants but i think we've got to kind of quietly and quickly put the brakes on until we can absorb what has happened in japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami and then see what more, if anything, we can demand of the new power plants that are coming online. we've got 104 nuclear power plants in america now. i was informed this morning that about 23 of them are built according to designs that are similar to the nuclear power plants in japan that are now the focus of our concern. >> schieffer: are we prepared for an earthquake like this? i mean, obviously, this is not something that is going to happen once a week. but what about our buildings in this country? is it time to think about reassessing specifications for that? >> it is. the japanese, as we've learned in the last few days, because of the terrible earthquake back about 15 years ago, have retrofitted old buildings. new buildings have high standards for withstanding earthquakes. in the west coast-- california,
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of course-- we always think of the area of our country most likely to be hit by earthquakes. new buildings have been equipped with earthquake resistant systems. a lot of the old buildings have not been retrofitted. it's time i think for states to look at their building codes and see whether they want to take preventive action. the other thing-- i spoke this morning with craig fugate, the director of administrator of fema. one of the things he said that he worries about is that the individual american people are not ready for what to do. the government is ready, about as ready as we can be. but what to do in the case of a disaster. go to the fema web site, because if you live particularly near the coast, you have to have an evacuation plan. you have to have emergency supplies. so you'll be safe to respond to a disaster. >> schieffer: senator, thank you so much for joining us. when we come back in a minute we'll talk to david sanger of "the new york times" and our own
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>> schieffer: back now with david sanger, chief washington correspondent of "the new york times". six years a bureau chief for the times in tokyo. and our own david martin, of course, our national security correspondent. david, what should we be looking for now in the next couple of days? >> well, in addition to the rescue operation, which i'm afraid has been sort of bad news getting to worse, i think that the nuclear plants are going to be the real focus of attention. here, the question is how much meltdown has happened? sunday morning, japan time, the government said that they had to assume that two of the plants were in partial meltdown. now, there's already been some detected amounts of cesium in the area. this is a very radioactive material that gets into everything. of course, it became the big problem at chernobyl.
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nobody is expecting a chernobyl- size issue here. but if the levels of cesium in the atmosphere continue to go up, then the problem of evacuating people is going to be much higher and the problem of cleaning up is going to be much harder. >> schieffer: we're already involved, the u.s. military, in a very big way here, david. just give me a little rundown on what we're doing there and what the pentagon is worried about. >> well, u.s. military helicopters based in japan have already evacuated 600 people from the disaster zone. the aircraft carrier "reagan" is on station serving in what the military calls a "lily pad" for japanese helicopters to refuel and operate of it as they go about disaster relief. there are about six other ships there that are searching the sea for anybody still alive who was washed out to sea by the tsunami. and there are several other big- deck ships on the way.
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some of them... at least one of them anyway carrying japanese troops, because internal movement is a big problem here. so the more the u.s. navy can move these troops, the better off japan is. >> schieffer: what is the main worry of our military about this? >> well, i think the u.s. military has the same worry about those plants that everybody else does. they have no special capability to deal with it. >> schieffer: david, i want to ask you-- the japanese government, do you feel that they've come clean? are they giving us the facts on this? sometimes, governments tend to try to coat things like this with good news. what is the record of the japanese government? >> well, the record in the nuclear arena is not great. there have been some much smaller nuclear incidents over the years. either the electric power companies or the government regulatory agency have been involved and gotten caught later on sort of downplaying the worst
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of the news, in one case editing a tape out to make it appear that an accident was not as bad as it was. here, you don't know how much of this is just the fog of confusion and crisis management, and how much of it is trying to just make sure that people don't panic. there's always, in a situation like this, the sort of fine line between not wanting to worsen an already panicked situation and coming clean with everybody about what's going on. >> schieffer: in line with that, lucy craft said some of the papers are saying that the stock market may crash tomorrow. >> it's possible it could. it's hard to know. you have to think, though, that over the long term this could actually turn into an economic stimulus for japan, because they're going to have to rebuild this beautiful and quite historic area all north of tokyo. that could bring a lot of investment back into japan. you already saw the yen go back
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up on friday just because of the thought that money would be flowing back into japan. it's very hard to sort of separate the short-term from the long-term here. >> schieffer: i want to thank both of you for adding a little perspective. i'll be back in a moment with some final thoughts on david broder. [ male announcer ] opportunity is a powerful force.
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>> schieffer: finally today, when they buried david broder of "the washington post" last week, they buried the greatest political reporter of our time, maybe any time. until he died, david was one of the few reporters still working who was here when i came to washington in 1969. and i shall never forget the first time i saw him. here just a couple of weeks, i was sent to a news conference, which turned into a shouting match. not with the news source, but among the reporters trying to shout down each other to ask a "gotcha" question. i happened to notice one reporter who had not joined in. he was just listening and writing down what the hapless official was trying to say. it was broder who i would later learn never talked when it interfered with listening. when i read his story the next day, i realized he had more information and a more complete account than any of us who had been trying to shout down each other. he had apparently pieced together the story with his own reporting before he got to the
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news conference, and was just listening to see if the official deviated from what he already knew. and that was broder. he did his homework before he went on a story, always did his own reporting, and more important, took the time to listen to what people said. in today's technology-driven journalism, that method is sometimes lost, but it is still the best way. they buried him but let's hope we never bury or forget his great lesson: talk less, listen more. we will really miss you, david.
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>> schieffer: that's it for us. thanks for watching "face the nation." captioning sponsored by cbs captioned by media access group at wgbh media access group at wgbh [ male announcer ] the network.
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